Brazil’s latest starlet, Neymar, has shone bright for three years now. Chosen as the face of a nation longing for their next superstar, this supremely talented footballer has been tabbed to lead a young Brazilian side to World Cup glory. The pressure to perform in any World Cup for the Brazilian national side is incredible. The fact that the 2014 World Cup being played in Brazil will ratchet up that immense pressure to rarely seen levels. Brazil has consistently been a contender for World Cup trophies, but unfortunately for Neymar, this current Brazilian side has far less direction than previous years. The lack of leadership, and a consistent starting XI has seen Brazil lose its spot amongst the world’s best. A FIFA world ranking of 18th in the world demonstrates the dire situation the squad is facing. The plan to relegate the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Luis Fabiano to bit part players without established replacements has left Brazil void of an attacking focal point.
Manager Luis Scolari has played an attack focused around Neymar. He starts Neymar on the left wing, Oscar or Hulk on the right wing, Kaka or Ronaldinho in the playmaker role, and Fred as the lone striker. To the naked eye this selection of attacking players looks awfully potent. So the question is, why does this combination of stars lack goals?
The obvious place to start would be the striker. Fred has long been a consistent goalscorer in Brazil’s top-flight division. Coming off back to back 20 plus goal seasons, he is very efficient as a goal poacher. The Brazilian Serie A, is notoriously known as an attack-minded league, with little in the form of defensive resistance. Fred is much more Mario Gomez than Mario Balotelli. He lacks pace and rarely provides that little something extra.
Then there is Oscar, a player played out of position at the club and international level. He is at his best in the number 10 role. A creator with decisive vision and a powerful right foot, he impacts the game far less when pushed out to the right wing. At Chelsea FC in England, Oscar is often the afterthought. Stuck behind his gifted midfield teammates Juan Mata and Eden Hazard on the depth charts, he usually finds himself played out of position. The first choice player in the central role is Juan Mata, who to his credit, has blossomed there by producing 10 Premier League goals as well as 10 assists. Oscar’s work rate with both club and country has left a lot to be desired. This tendency causes a bigger issue with his national side, considering his partner on the right is the attack minded right back Dani Alves.
The alternative on the right is Hulk. The former striker is also not at his best as a winger. At his former club FC Porto in Portugal, Hulk formed the most lethal strike partnership in Europe with Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao. His incredible pace and dangerous left foot make him the kind of player who can turn a game on its head. His best position is as a support striker or as one of two strikers. Those are two roles in which his tendency to be trigger-happy is less detrimental to the team’s attacking rhythm.
Kaka and Ronaldinho have been somewhat of a nuisance to Scolari, and Mano Menezes before him. The two former stars are far from their brilliant best, but have still had very good seasons. This has made the transition away from using them in Brazil’s attack that much harder. Ronaldinho has shown on occasion that he still has the ability to make you dream. He has the creativity and the brash confidence to see and try the impossible, a skill you simply cannot teach. Kaka, has largely been stuck on the Real Madrid bench behind Mesut Ozil. The 2007 World Player of the Year, has played well when called upon by Real Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho. He offers something different from the German, as less of a creator and more of an elusive support striker. Kaka has played better in the Brazilian shirt than Ronaldinho as of late, and should be the one picked out of the two by Scolari.
Then we have Neymar, the focal point of Brazil’s attack. He has been played out of position on the left wing, where he opts to cut in on his right foot, instead of pushing out wide to provide crosses like traditional wingers. At the club level in Brazil, Neymar has been a prolific goalscorer. At his club Santos, he instead plays as the left striker in a two man strike team, a role in which he thrives. In Brazil’s Selecao he has yet to become a menacing goal threat, an issue which Scolari needs to quickly sort out.
The solution is playing Neymar as the lone striker, in a “free” striking role. He would cause issues for any back four with his dribbling ability and pace. His roaming in that position would make him much more of a threat than the predictable and stationary Fred. Deploying Ramires as the right winger instead of his usual midfield role, would allow his unbelievable work-rate and pace to provide a security blanket for Dani Alves. On the left playing Lucas Moura, who has similarly blistering pace, and a wonderful attacking repertoire, would give Brazil a player who can get in behind defenders. The central role could be filled by either Oscar or Kaka, depending on which of the two is on form. Hulk could come on as a great super sub to wreak havoc late in games when opponents are tired and get heavy legged.
For Brazil to have a chance at the next World Cup, they’ll need to get the best out of their best players. The only way to accomplish that is to play them in their preferred positions. There is a just over a year left until the world’s eyes fall on Brazil, and anything less than winning the World Cup would be deemed a failure at home.